How to Provide the Right Level of Customer Service
This article is part of our content series How To Build A Better Bookkeeping Series: The Journey of Continuous Improvement.
What do you think your customers want from you – more than anything else, what is the most important thing you do for them?
Is it getting the VAT right? Is it saving them tax?
Do they appreciate the accuracy of your data processing above all other things? Is it the way you explain why they have payments on account to make (…every single year…)?
They expect that stuff.
That’s what you do for them, that’s what they pay you for.
What they want is to know that you’ve got their back – that you’re looking out for them and that you will let them know what they need, when they need it and how they need it.
This is not down to the technical skills you have – very few of your clients will understand what you do. The only person who really appreciates how much work you have put in to have the knowledge you have, is you.
The sad reality is that your clients just expect you to have this knowledge – they don’t care how you do what you do, they don’t really care how you reach those figures – what they care about is that they believe you are giving them the very best service that you can.
I just never seem to have enough time
If you are charging the right prices, and therefore have the right number of clients to work the right number of hours to be able to do the very best job that you can, then you will have the time and inclination to provide 5 star levels of customer service.
The type of customer service that sends a card on their birthday, calls them up to discuss a new tax law or revised legislation, because you’ve spotted an opportunity or a challenge.
The type of customer service that means you get to charge fees for enhanced services, because you have time to do them, you have time to articulate the benefits and associated value and you have time to deliver them.
Or, you just call them up once a month because that is what you do – that is what sets you apart from the rest of the industry – no-one in the accounting industry has enough time unless they can get their price and delivery method right. If you can, then you will be able to take the time to provide a level of customer service that means your clients will never want to leave you, ever.
You are already a trusted advisor, you know more about most of your clients than their close friends – they don’t want to leave you. So, if you need to increase your prices, and change the way you deliver your services, all you need to do is provide customer service that they know they won’t get elsewhere and you will achieve it.
On the other hand, if you increase your prices and/or change the method of delivery, and don’t raise the standard of the service your customers receive, you will struggle to keep the clients.
Of course, if you are already providing exemplary customer service, while working too many hours, using outdated delivery platforms and not earning enough money, you are running yourself into the ground and eventually, those levels of customer service will slip, you will possibly even start to resent the work that you do – something has to give, somewhere along the line.
You need to join it up.
Bookkeeping is a retained service model business
I have clients now that I have had for over 12 years, I haven’t always got the price right, I haven’t always delivered the best product in the best way, I haven’t always had the confidence I have now.
But what I have always had is a relationship with these clients – one that has overcome the issues that 12+ years of delivering an integral part of the business process must come with.
A relationship that has meant I have made mistakes and they have forgiven me, a relationship that means that, when I put my prices up, they stay with me. A relationship that gives me the confidence to have difficult conversations with these clients.
And a relationship that means they have continually referred me to others.
Of course, without those relationships, anything you do or change, threatens the retention of the business. If you put your prices up, they are more likely to leave. If you change the method of delivery, they are more likely to look for someone who does it the way they are used to.
Your levels of customer service must match your levels of pricing and how you deliver your services.
If your customer service is poor, clients will not pay you premium prices.
Customer Service for retained business is complex and challenging.
There must be a balance in the relationship – you do not want to work for people who think you will go out of your way to do every little thing they need, at their demand, on their terms, and for the price they are already paying you for the other things you do.
But you need them to trust you, to rely on you and to depend on you.
You don’t want them to even think about trusting someone else with their business.
Striking that balance is often very difficult – certainly, for many years in my business, I was ‘pushed around’ by many clients, struggling to keep them happy and never feeling rewarded for my efforts.
That’s not fun and it certainly doesn’t allow you to move towards your own goals.